Tories want to introduce legislation that would let agency workers do the work of striking workers

Labor accused the government of taking on the P&O Ferries “playbook” and said replacing staff “cannot and must not be an option”.

Economic Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng

The Tories are poised to push through legislation allowing employers to hire agency workers when workers go on strike.

Britain is poised for a so-called ‘summer of unhappiness’ as workers facing a cost of living crisis threaten to strike over wages.

The government has responded by saying it will introduce a new law allowing temporary workers to take over the work of workers who are retiring.

The new law is expected to come into force in mid-July and will not affect the rail strikes planned for this week.

Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh slammed Transport Secretary Grant Shapps in the House of Commons, saying: “The same Transport Secretary who just a few weeks ago feigned outrage at P&O’s shameful conduct and who is now taking up her playbook.

“Replacing qualified, safety-critical personnel with contract workers cannot and must not be an option,” she added in the House of Commons.

A government source said the change was necessary because “unions are threatening action across the economy”.

However, unions argue that this would undermine the right to strike.

A customer service board notifies passengers of upcoming labor disputes on June 20, 2022 in London, England. Tomorrow is the first of a three-day strike action this week by more than 40,000 rail workers whose unions are protesting job cuts, wages and working conditions.


(Getty Images)

The TUC and the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) issued a strongly worded joint statement calling on the government to abandon its “unworkable” plan.

They resisted “strongly,” adding: “Using agency workers to cover strikes will only prolong the conflict between employers and their employees. Strikes are labor disputes within an industry or company.

“The government must take action and deal with the settlement of labor disputes instead of involving a third party in the form of contract workers in a dispute. That does nothing to resolve the underlying issues between the company and its employees.”

Neil Carberry, chief executive of the REC, said: “The government proposal will not work. Agency employees have a variety of roles to choose from and are very unlikely to cross pickets.

“Agencies want the ban to remain in place to avoid being pressured by clients to provide staff in hostile and potentially dangerous situations. Earlier this year we saw the impact on agencies accidentally dragged into the P&O dispute. This offers a salutary lesson.

“In any dispute, our goal should be to resolve the conflict, not prolong it. Putting workers at another company in the middle of a fight can only fuel tension.

“We urge ministers to reconsider this perverted approach, which runs counter to the standards adopted by the employment industry globally. Business is best served with negotiations, not showdowns.”

Paul Nowak, TUC deputy general secretary, said: “Just a few months ago, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps was criticizing P&O for replacing experienced workers with agency workers. But now he’s proposing to do the same for railroads.

“Allowing agency workers to replace striking workers would undermine the right to strike and create a real safety hazard for the public and workers.

“It would put these workers in an appalling situation, exacerbate disputes and poison industrial relations.

“Having repeatedly promised a high-wage economy, ministers now appear determined to reduce workers’ bargaining power and make it more difficult for workers to achieve fair wages and conditions.

“This government has the power to play an active role in settling disputes, but it would rather escalate tensions and start a fight with the unions.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “When P&O broke the law, this government gave them a slap on the wrist – when unions defend wages and jobs, they change the law and fuel division.

“It is clear that this government is on the side of bad bosses.

“Many contract workers will be alarmed if they are forced to try to break legitimate picket lines.”

The government has not made any official announcement to change the law.

Economy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng tweeted: “The lifting of these restrictions dating back to the 1970s will give companies the freedom to access qualified temporary staff on short notice. Legislation is on the way.”

Unison’s health chief Sara Gorton said: “Last year the government was full of praise for the NHS staff. Now ministers are warning them of another pay cut.

“Rather than trying to distract attention from their own problems by messing with health workers, the Government should do everything it can to persuade staff to stay on in the NHS with a decent pay rise.

“With the current chronic shortage of skilled workers, it is difficult to imagine how the NHS could find enough temporary workers to provide secure coverage.

“Health workers want ministers to listen and recognize the benefit that a decent pay rise would bring to services and patients.”

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